BIGFORK -- Jim Benn was always going to have a passion for athletics.
"My dad was a hall of fame MOA (Montana Officials Association referee), so on a Friday night I would be at a Class AA game, then Saturday afternoon I would be at a Class C game," Benn recalled of his childhood.
It wasn't long until Benn himself was participating in those games, suiting up for Frenchtown High School and legendary Broncs' coach Tim Racicot, who had a "huge, huge influence on my life," Benn said.
"The man has a way of imbuing positivity into people and I feel very fortunate that I got to be part of that program and tradition that was there," he said.
Benn's father, also Jim, and Racicot planted the early seeds for a life-long love of sports, and it didn't take long for that love to sprout and spread.
The younger Jim Benn began his coaching career in Manhattan, then Corvallis, eventually landing at Huntley Project High School. It was there his own sons, Connor and Cormac, found their own passion for sports, particularly football.
"I grew up in Huntley Project, moved to Ronan and then we moved to Malta for two years," said Cormac, who's now a senior. "Malta was probably my second favorite place. I loved the kids there. We went to Missoula Loyola for one year, and now we’re at Bigfork, and Bigfork is probably my favorite place."
Connor graduated during the Benn's residence in Ronan, signing a scholarship to play college football at MSU-Northern in 2014. Cormac has seen the three extra stops since then -- Malta, Loyola and now Bigfork -- and, similar to his own journeys, Jim Benn has noticed each stop has matured Cormac, on the field and off.
"Ronan taught Mac to care about people. He spent a lot of time with his grandma there, and she’s one of the kindest, gentlest people you’ll ever meet," said Jim. "He learned how to operate around all kinds of different people, how to choose friends and see what to do and what not to do. Then we took the big move to Malta and that place loves football, and it’s literally like something out of a movie. I’ve told my coaching friends, ‘You all deserve to coach in a place like Malta that just cares about the whole kid so much.’ They’re passionate fans, they’re supportive and he just loved his experience there.
"He was pretty mad at me for leaving (Malta), but he understands that our family, that was the big pull back to western Montana. Loyola gave us a chance to get closer to home, and it was a wild ride. I think Mac learned a ton from coach (Todd) Hughes. Coach Hughes ... really brought out some different parts of Mac’s game than he would have gotten under me as a head coach."
"Honestly, coming here, this is paradise on earth," Jim continued, motioning toward downtown Bigfork. "We have an amazing administration, a supportive fan base and kids that love sports. It’s not hard to look out over those bleachers into the lake every day. It’s a great fit for all of us, and I’m so appreciative to how everyone here has been receptive to myself and especially Mac. He has been treated very, very well."
In all honesty, it was easy for the Bigfork community to welcome the Benns to town. Jim brought a bevy of football knowledge, and Cormac is one of the most dynamic players in the state.
Cormac's training increased during his year-long stint at Missoula Loyola, where he spent time in the weight room with former Montana Grizzly football players Steven Pfahler and Jesse Sims, as well as former UM sprinter Alex Mustard. Since moving to Bigfork, he has continued that training under professional strength and conditioning coach Mike Gerber, another former Griz.
Those dedications and efforts have led to results on the field. Cormac Benn has 216 carries for 1,775 yards, an average of 8.2 yards per carry, and 23 touchdowns this fall. He's currently averaging nearly 225 yards per game, according to MaxPreps. Back on Oct. 9, Cormac posted eye-popping numbers in a win against Class A Polson -- 38 carries for 381 yards and five touchdowns.
Father and son are quick to give credit to Bigfork's offensive line, and Cormac says "they know I'm their guy, that I'm going to get it done for them no matter what's on the scoreboard."
But it isn't always easy being a coach's son, especially one that sets the tone offensively.
"Coach to player, he can be hard on me. He wants to show me as an example in practice, so that part gets hard," said Cormac. "But when we get home, the father-son (relationship), I wouldn’t want anyone else coaching me in this world. I love him so much. It’s amazing to have that relationship in high school where, he’s coached me ever since I was a little kid. That’s amazing."
"He has become more vocal. He’s never been a very outgoing kid. He was content to stay home and play Fortnite through a lot of things, but he’s a very serious (kid), a very good student," Jim said of Cormac. "I’ve seen him with lots of different kids, engaged with the younger guys —- he takes great care of our freshmen.
"If he weren’t my kid, I feel like I could be more descriptive about what kind of kid he is, but it’s always hard because you’re trying to hold back that praise because you don’t want it to seem like there’s favoring," Jim continued. "But he’s really a kid that does anything you want. As a parent, I mean, he’s never gotten in trouble. He’s so easy. So easy."
As the Class B football playoffs get set to kick off this weekend, the clock is winding down on Jim's and Cormac's time together on the football field. Both hope to see Cormac continue his career on the college gridiron, but each is making sure to soak up these waning moments -- the practices, bus rides, film studies and game days -- turning them into a lifetime's worth of memories.
"Effort, attitude and enthusiasm. That's what he's always taught me, that's what he tells our team and that's what I love about him," said Cormac.
"I think it comes down to that — he talked about our three core values: attitude, effort and enthusiasm. He brings all three every single day. I don’t think there’s a coach in America that wouldn’t want that," said Jim. "He makes it pretty easy. And it’s infectious. I think it’s rubbed off on the other kids in our program and it makes it so much better when you have that."
The Benns return to Malta when Bigfork faces the Mustangs in the opening round of the Class B football playoffs on Saturday.